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‘The Golden Child’ (PG-13)

By Paul Attanasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 12, 1986

In "The Golden Child" the camera becomes a sort of yes man, a member of Eddie Murphy's entourage. As you dwell on his close-up, as every wink and smirk becomes a matter of great moment, you know what it's like to be, say, his masseur.

This is not a particularly good feeling, but "The Golden Child" is (in its own mind, at least) one heckuva "good feelings" movie. The story involves a beatific youngster (newcomer J.L. Reate) who has come to Earth (specifically, Tibet) bearing the gift of compassion. Such a "golden child" arrives, we are told, every thousand generations -- the last one brought justice, but the Devil put the kibosh on him. Needless to say, Old Nick is up to his old tricks, sending his proxy Sardo (Charles Dance) to kidnap the sainted half pint and bring him to Los Angeles.

Along comes Chandler Jarrell (Murphy), a self-styled "finder of lost children." According to Kee Nang (Charlotte Lewis), a Tibetan priestess, Jarrell is destined to come to the child's rescue. He is, she says, the "Chosen One."

The problem is that Murphy takes all this jabber personally -- he appears to think that he is the Chosen One. The entire movie is tailored to Murphy, sodden with a sense that his every remark is hilarious, that his every smoldering look will have ushers shuttling back and forth with salts of ammonia to revive the women expiring in the aisles. "The Golden Child" is edited to Murphy's sloppy improvisational rhythms, so we watch him stumbling with his lines, searching for laughs he never finds. And, along the lines of his stand-up routine, most of the humor consists of Murphy approaching various thugs, Tibetans and special-effects demons (created by Industrial Light & Magic) and offering to "break" what the delicate would call "the buttocks."

Nobody can take "48 HRS." or "Beverly Hills Cop" away from Murphy, and, in the hands of a director such as Walter Hill or Martin Brest, he can be a vivid and inventive comic-heroic leading man. But Michael Ritchie isn't in that directorial class. Ritchie bullies you with an overloud, routine brass-and-thump score (by Michel Colombier). The action sequences are cloddishly orchestrated. And for the most part, the movie simply doesn't make sense.

Ritchie's chief fault, though, is that he allows Murphy to overwhelm all the elements of a film that a director is supposed to control. He has shot "The Golden Child" mostly with close-ups -- not to make narrative points, but to cater to the star's vanity. He doesn't give his supporting players any space -- Charles Dance, a prodigiously talented English actor, simply becomes a glowering prop to Murphy's comedy, just as Charlotte Lewis is simply a prop in an affair that is less a romance than an a` la carte order of Murph 'n' Turf.

Worst of all, Ritchie has taken Dennis Feldman's script and turned what might have been a lovely fantasy -- about a man jaded by the sordidness of L.A. who renews his faith -- into a half-baked comedy without a heart.

It's hard to blame Ritchie, though. In Hollywood they almost force movie stars to become 600-pound gorillas, and there's every reason to believe Murphy has put on some avoirdupois. Needless to say, in any dispute between a journeyman director and Paramount's most bankable asset, there's no mistaking where the studio would stand. They'd rather see Murphy grow into what he has every intention of becoming -- the Sylvester Stallone of comedy.

"The Golden Child" is rated PG-13 and contains some profanity and sexual themes.

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